SF Lusty Lady Workers
Ms Jared over at Sinister Girl linked to an article about the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco. It is a morbidly, disgustingly, fascinating story.
The Lusty Lady’s claim to fame and respect has always been that it was “woman-owned.” There is a Lusty Lady in Seattle which has been around for decades; there is also one in San Francisco. According to articles written about the place over the years, at the Lusty Lady, women are treated differently than they are treated in in male-run, male-owned strip clubs, they are protected in certain ways, and so on.
Even though working conditions were better for Lusty Lady dancers than elsewhere, there were still problems (i.e., the problem of customers filming dancers through one-way mirrors and, for example, selling their images on the internet, or just posting them to the internet, things like this), and so in the ’90s, the dancers took their issues to the streets and demanded the right to unionize. They were successful and became the first unionized strip club in the country.
Three years ago, the San Francisco club became a collective, meaning all employees, including all of the dancers who worked there, were also owners; the old management sold the club to the employees. Collective members’ wages were based on the amount of money the club brought in. Recently some of the collective members — in general, men who work the front desk, the door, and who clean up after patrons — have decided the club isn’t making enough money and isn’t drawing enough customers. One of these men, Davide Cerri, sent an e-mail to the club’s Board of Directors complaining that the reason revenues were down was that the club was hiring too many fat dancers, what he described as “unwatchable girls.” In his e-mail, he wrote: “People comes [sic] asking for refunds, because they do not want to see girls that they would not want to have sex with even if they were completely drunk. This is reality, not question of options. We sell fantasies, not nightmares.”
When one of the dancers read the e-mail, she was so enraged she posted it on the mirror in the dressing room so it could be read by all the dancers. In the intense conflict which followed, there were calls for firing fat dancers and calls for firing Cerri. The dancer who posted the e-mail filed a grievance with the union and Cerri filed his own grievance claiming, basically, that he was being discriminated against because he was a man and that men and women in the club were being treated differently and accusing the dancer who posted his e-mail of creating a “hostile work environment” for him. Ultimately the dancer was fired.
The union ruled that because Cerri was in a position to determine and effect policy at Lusty Lady, he was a managerial employee and so the union could not represent him. Meanwhile the union continues to press the dancer’s grievance on the basis that she was wrongly terminated.
Now the male employees are claiming that if Cerri is a managerial employee, all of the employees are managerial, given that the Lusty Lady is a collective and is owned by all employees, and an attempt is underway on the part of male employees to decertify the union.
The Lusty Lady has touted itself as a feminist strip club always, going back to the ’70s. The dancers there have believed themselves to be feminists. For this reason, it has been unique among strip clubs in its practice of rejecting traditional beauty standards and opposing all discrimination including size discrimination. It isn’t true that the club is doing poorly revenue-wise. The Guardian reported that the Lusty Lady made an average of $28,000 a week in January, $27,000 in February, $28,000 in April, $26,000 in June, and $27,000 in July of 2006.
The problem is that strip clubs are about men buying the opportunity to objectify and fetishize the kind of female bodies men have decided are worthy of being objectified and fetishized. On a deeper level, they are about regulating and selling the bodies of women in the interests of perpetuating a system in which women’s bodies are viewed as the property of men and hence, saleable. That being so, the term “feminist strip club” can only, in the end, prove to be an oxymoron.
What an incredible Exhibit A of male dominance and sexist behavior, every aspect of this story, from running out fat dancers, to filing bogus discrimination grievances, to decertifying the union, to bowing and scraping at the altar of the profit motive, to blowing off dancers’ feminist concerns as not worthy of consideration. At the very least, every one of the men involved ought to be fired. If that means the Lucky Lady goes under, well, I think that might be a very good thing.